A Letter to Our Past Selves

Ananya Balakrishnan

 

Dear us, March 2020,

 

I miss you. It’s been eight months –it’s been 35 weeks, it’s been 241 days – and I didn’t think I would miss you this much. I never usually miss my past like this; I’ve never felt such a stark disconnect with my past, not like this. Now my past feels like a past life. The smallest sounds are locked away and I don’t think I’ll ever find the key again. You seem so innocent, compared to now. So naive. So happy, almost. You seem like a child. I think of you the way I think of myself from middle school. Everything about your life seemed so idyllic, so normal, and I took that normalcy for granted. 

You didn’t hug your friends goodbye on March 12th. You were supposed to see them the next day. Nothing was supposed to change.

The dates, the events from that month are tattooed on the insides of my eyelids; every month, every time that day comes around, I want to etch a little tally mark into the wall– little tally marks to represent how many months since “normal”. Like I’m a prisoner, but the walls trapping me are those of my skull. I want to etch the months since “normal” into the inside of my own skull. The old normal, because I don’t want to believe that this – whatever limbo we’re living in – is going to be normal. The number of times that I’ve heard the phrase “the new normal” makes me want to vomit. 

March 5th, everything was normal. You woke up;, you went to school; you thought nothing of it. That evening, that’s when whispers of school closing started circulating. You didn’t know what to think of it. How could you? This was still a joke for you. You and your friends joked about the virus. Isn’t it strange how prophetic those jokes would become? This was still a joke to you. But you were still a little anxious. Of course you were. March 6th, things were less normal. You woke up, you went to school; you thought a little more of it. There was a special schedule, and you downloaded Zoom for the first time. Just another app. You listened to the whispers continue to circulate, listened as your anxiety swelled. But then there was a four-day weekend, and when you got back, things seemed like they were normal. 

March 11th, you sat in the Breezeway, with people all around you. Not a single mask to be seen. Someone sneezed but it meant nothing. You burst into laughter as someone exaggerated a cough and made some offhand remark about hand sanitizer. It was a Wednesday, so you stayed after school for a little bit with a friend or two. But you thought nothing of it, or at least, not that much. March 12th. You expected the same as the previous day, because the whispers that had been getting much, much louder said that a shutdown was probably a couple of weeks away. You knew the elementary school had already closed for “the rest of the month” but you trusted the whispers. It had been an even day, periods 5, 6, 7, and 8. You hadn’t done your homework for the next day’s classes yet, so you welcomed the idea of there being a possibility that you wouldn’t have to go to school the next day. That’s all it was then: a possibility. 

You got the email that night. Three weeks. Then four. Then five. Then the seniors graduated. And then suddenly it was the first day of school again, but you were still sequestered in your bedroom. How were you to know it would look like this back in March?

You’re different now. More cynical, more pessimistic. “Maybe next week” stopped many, many weeks ago, and now you’re too tired of watching the dates you predicted things could be normal slip by silently. You don’t trust the whispers that have grown into shrieks anymore. Hell, you don’t trust anyone anymore– you never know who might have it. You never know who longed for the old normal just a little too much, never know who got reckless. 

In the beginning, you used to sit down in front of your computer at least somewhat readily, back straight, with hardly any complaint; now, you can barely drag yourself out of bed. You used to want to separate each day, to do something, to have fun, but now what? You made more of your days than I do. But then again, you thought this was going to be so much more temporary than it currently is. Maybe I’m just jaded now. 

You don’t know how lost you’re about to be. There seems to be endless time now, hours don’t exist these days. Time feels like a construct; time feels like something you can’t identify anymore. Does the day end at 11:59 PM, or when you inevitably crash at 3 AM, unsure of where the hours or days or months have gone? You’ll lose yourself to those hours and days and months that are going to change you into what feels like a completely unrecognizable person. For better or for worse, you and I are different people. 

I miss you. I miss what the world felt like when I was you. The world feels worse now; it feels sick; it feels dirty. It feels lonely, too. But now I have a community that has reconnected– stronger than ever.  We don’t take each other for granted when we see each other anymore. We smile; we want to hug, anything to show our affection, anything to show how grateful we are for the brief respite from our loneliness. You didn’t do that. I miss when we didn’t have to do that. 

I miss you. I miss everything before you. I miss everything about you– the way you could inhale the scent of the campus at 8:30 in the morning, the way you could crowd along with everyone into the theater for assemblies, the way you could settle into the silence of the library. I miss the way you could hug your friends. 

March 12th, 2020. You should have hugged your friends. 

 

Us, November 2020.